How to Find your Neutral Spine Position
Why is a neutral spine important?
Today I had my first physio session with Jayde at Westcoast SCI Physiotherapy.
I’m living an active lifestyle. I practice fencing three times a week, and when the weather is nice and I’m not fencing, I go running with my dog. These exercises have helped me stay in good shape but have caused me some injuries as well. My lower back was injured several times; it’s a particularly weak spot of my body regarding strength, flexibility, and vulnerability. I’m also bothered by knee pain on cold and rainy days, and sometimes after running. I’m pretty convinced driving and running are contributing factors.
My physio goals were pretty clear. I wanted to strengthen my lower back to prevent future injuries, and better core strength will also improve my fencing. I’ve tried weightlifting to make it happen, but all kinds of deadlifts were just too much for me. I’m expecting a better outcome from a physiotherapist.
My second goal is to improve my posture. I’m aware that I have a forward head posture and rounded shoulders. I’m not happy with how I look, and I get tired quickly from sitting or standing. My lower back injury is also contributing to it, so I hope to change it while dealing with my back.
Before we started, Jayde answered my questions regarding a “good posture”. According to her, there is no perfect posture, the key is to find a NEUTRAL position for prolonged periods, but that the best posture is your next posture (i.e.: keep moving!). She also told me the most important thing in improving posture is to be mindful of it, so that eventually neutral spine position becomes a habit. I was surprised by it because my research and failed attempts lead me to believe imbalanced muscles cause bad posture, and a good way to improve it would be to exercise the weak muscles.
Another good piece of advice I got from Jayde was to set a posture check reminder. It could be an alarm clock or a timer that rings every 30 mins. When one is about to melt or has just melted into the chair, the alarm will be a checkpoint for a walk and some stretches, then sit back again in a good, comfortable posture. Soon you’ll find it becomes a habit. She also advised that it was okay to be in other positions (like slouching or very upright) transiently and that no one can hold “perfect posture” all day and that’s okay!
Neutral spine position
We started with finding my neutral spine position. The technique we used was to move my hips forward and backward, with minimum shoulder and leg movement, I was told to reach the furthest point possible, and find the middle place between them. Figuring out the lateral neutral point is a similar process, moving my hip left and right and finding the middle point. We also did it standing, sitting, lying face up and face down. These drills definitely helped to improve my body awareness, as I didn’t realize I could move in those ways.
A neutral position is not an exact point since a human body is not a machine. Jayde used the analogy of pulling her finger back and down as far as it could go and advised this was ok for a stretch, but it might get sore if I left my finger pulled back like that for hours. She recommended that once I find that neutral spine, it is still important to move within that neutral range when sitting for a long time.
It was hard for me to find the point since I couldn’t see my own body and measure the angle of my spine. After a few tries with Jayde’s help, I was confident in finding the neutral place and not worried that it was only one precise position (it’s a range).
It’s a beneficial movement you can do in the office, class, and while driving. Jayde recommended me to do it every half an hour, and it will help me keep a neutral spine position in mind and adjust regularly. Again, the mindset is the most important thing to have, and even a good posture shouldn’t last for too long, stand up and take a walk, and change your position within the neutral range after sitting for a while.
Homework to make it even better
Physiotherapy isn’t about coming to the clinic and getting fixed, to make the most out of my session, there are several take-home exercises I need to do this week. Watch the video for demonstration of Stabilization Side Planking, Bird dog alt. legs and arms, and Lateral glide.
Let’s see the effect of these exercises next week!
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